Excerpt from an infinite duration two screen video, Hildegard von Bingen’s 'lingua ignotae' and image recognition algorithm.
Commissioned by Camden Art Centre, London for The Botanical Mind Exhibition, 2020 botanicalmind.online/
Coding: Isaac Clarke from Black Shuck.
Voice: Gretchen Egolf
Music: O Frondens Virga, by Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), ‘O Jerusalem’, Sequentia, 1997
O Viridissima Virga, by Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), ‘A Feather on the Breath of God’, Emma Kirkby with Gothic Voices, 1981
Gameplay footage: Far Cry 5, (Ubisoft), by Clay Barnard Chodzko
Additional camera: Seth Barnard Chodzko
O, you happy roots, branch and mediatrix (2020), a two screen video with image recognition algorithm, stems from Adam Chodzko’s memories of lying on the earth in a forest and looking up at the tree canopy with its perpetually shimmering back-lit leaves, breeze stirred, like a mass of flickering digits, and him sensing that there was a code being made, a signal, telling us something, that we were, as yet, unable to comprehend.
It also comes from the inverse, another form of blocked translation, the ability of plants and trees to apparently resist their representation through digital video; their shape, movement and tone always remaining too complex to be rendered in a way that feels true.
From not being able to see the wood for the trees, or, the trees for the wood, grows a desire for a deeper image recognition.
This new digital commission has been developed especially for The Botanical Mind exhibition at Camden Art Centre. Working with computer coders, Black Shuck, Chodzko has developed an algorithm that searches for ciphers from the Litterae Ignotae – a script devised for the Lingua Ignotae, a secret language (perhaps the first conlang), created by the 12th Century Christian visionary mystic Saint Hildegard von Bingen.
The image recognition algorithm scans footage of undergrowth, woodland and forest, both real and virtual, looking for the ciphers’ shapes that might be found in the dark, particularly in the shadows cast by, between and under the vegetation. Once located, the code proceeds to assemble any discovered ciphers to spell out (and, murmur) plant names from the 150 plants she catalogued in the Lingua Ignotae as well as deviating to construct new hybrid varieties. Montaged images of these plant types and their hybrid forms surface through the algorithm, previous iterations receding behind them to generate an infinite ‘garden’; a mass of green – virga, viridity, chlorophyll.
Chodzko has assigned each cipher a sound, extracted as fragments from the opening phrases of Hildegard’s choral compostions: O Viridissima Virga (O branch of freshest green) and O Frondens Virga (O blooming branch, you stand upright in your nobility, as breaks the dawn on high).
Through O, you happy roots… Chodzko speculates that the sacred code Hildegard developed, as mediatrix, some 900 years ago, in order to create a channel between the earthly and the divine, might, in the present, be channelled by us (with the assistance of algorithms) as a visual and auditory incantation, a spell, to activate new forms of psychological and spiritual growth. Here language is detected in the shapes of darkness rather than light; a growth emerging therefore specifically within the unconscious or unknown. The work seeks to catalyse this germination through invoking an ecstatic, erotic and meditative relationship, vibrating between mind, bodies, plants, light, dark, desire and the acts of looking and naming. Together these elements combine as a shimmering hallucinatory vision or dream, constantly active and in a state of unfolding and becoming; a new form of human movement through a new form of garden, perhaps attempting to become botanical transformation itself, creating a path into an infinite Eden.
An installation version of O, you happy roots… will be developed for Camden Art Centre using a live video feed from the gallery’s garden to allow the algorithm an infinitely variable environment of chance in which to detect the sacred code, generating, during the course of the exhibition, a multitude of Hildegard’s plants and their hybrids, through voice, text and image.
Adam Chodzko is an artist working across media, exploring our conscious and unconscious behaviour, social relations and collective imaginations through artworks that are propositions for aberrant forms of ‘social media’. O, you happy roots… continues his exploration of art as a potential catalyst for vision revealing the interplay between our desire to see (revelations) as well as to hide through disavowals. It also continues Chodzko’s interest in codes, secrecies, signals, image moderation, chance, mysticism, spells, science fictions, community and ecology.